BY D.C. PATHAK
The sweeping victory of Narendra Modi and his party in this General Election – that went far beyond any conventional poll arithmetic – was transformational in the sense that for the first time the Indians at the grass roots level believed that the promise made by a leadership earlier had been sincerely pursued by it. Prime Minister Modi had post- 2014 called for ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ and declared that he would put the ‘nation first’ in handling the issues of governance. The development schemes that he announced aimed at benefiting the common man regardless of rural-urban distinctions and what is truly modernistic – using the power of technology as a great equaliser.
He was able to establish that while he engaged in serving the people he could deal with threats to the nation’s security with an iron will and a fierce response. In a long time Indian masses – more aware than ever before of the environ around, thanks to the Age of Information – were first able to see things for themselves without the tinted mentoring of political parties. They understood the two basic needs of citizens in a democracy – economic improvement and security against external and internal threats – and felt reasonably assured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was selflessly geared to working for both. The results of the 2019 Parliamentary polls showed a wide undercurrent of acceptance of Modi’s leadership that many observers missed out on – it was left to the exit polls to reveal it in full measure.
Now that the Modi regime is in place, it would do the Prime Minister good if he straightaway got down to completing what he had set out to do – and reassemble a team that worked on his mission-oriented grid. In India, there has been too much politics in governance – the elected representatives even as ministers becoming excessively dependent on their constituencies and losing sight of what was so clearly in the larger interest of the nation. The kind of majority Modi is now presiding over would not allow much room for ambiguity in policy making or flaws in the execution of development projects. In his first tenure, Prime Minister Modi concentrated on international relations rightly pursuing a foreign policy that was essentially focused on bilateral relations based on mutual interest in the spheres of economic progress and national security. Foreign policy can be classically defined as the product of national economic and security concerns and Modi gets full credit for implementing it to that end – with countries big or small – and creating for India a huge space of its own in the post-Cold War era. However, in India, internal governance is a running challenge and in its new innings, a lot more will be required to be done by the Modi regime on the domestic front.
If India has to turn its demographic profile into a lasting asset it will have to put special focus on health, education and skill training. Also, the ordinary farmers constitute a major segment of our national life and the country’s economic progress and self-sufficiency in food depends on them. They must receive total attention of the Centre and the states. Further, our defence forces, who safeguard the borders and deal with the threats originating from beyond our frontiers, have to have a seamless liaison with the paramilitary that protected the country from the enemy operating on our own soil. A lot has been achieved in this direction already but in the age of covert offensives and proxy wars a coordinated implementation of policies of defence and internal security will remain an extremely important aspect of exercise of sovereign power by the Centre. Kashmir is a key testing ground for this.
In an overall perspective, five areas stand out for organised and sustained action by the new government. First, Prime Minister Narendra Modi owed his 2014 victory to the expectations of the people that he would deliver a death blow to big time corruption indulged in by leaders in public life – almost always with the collusion of bureaucrats or public servants. The fear of punishment was still not there in part because the agencies concerned were yet not fully geared to uncovering the complex mesh that surrounded all the scams and financial frauds. The renewed mandate should be used by the Modi regime to chase out the corrupt wherever they are and liberate the country from the malaise of corruption that has been the primary reason why India’s development was stilted all these years. Prime Minister Modi has done well to emphasize on the probity in public life by telling his new MPs not to fall for ‘VIP Culture’.
Secondly, the law and order situation in India has remained unsatisfactory in recent years and even though in terms of Constitutional responsibility police and law enforcement were an area of accountability primarily for the states, the fact is that the image of the country took a beating on this count affecting somewhere even the climate of investment for outside businesses. The frequency of offences like organized murders and gang rapes committed in public view have had the effect of demoralizing the law abiding citizens and creating social destabilization. The spread of political violence in some states has tended to affect the play of democracy during and outside of the election period. The Centre has no reason to remain uninvolved – there was enough happening by way of violence on the streets in some states to warrant use of Art 256 of the Constitution for issuing a ‘directive’ and not a mere advisory to the state government to perform better on the law and order front. Article 355 of the Constitution is there to deal with an exceptional situation where the state government was just not able to control political violence. Also, the time has come for the Government of India to tighten the screws on the officers of the All India Services in the states who failed to put down cases of violence in public that caused internal instability.
The third crucial area of governance relates to the delivery of development projects in time – whether they belonged to the Centre, state or the local bodies. Corruption and politicization of economic initiatives have created an opaqueness about fixing responsibility for unacceptable delays. A good way out is to bring in the district administration – the Collector-SP duo – in the monitoring mechanism. The young IAS-IPS officials who hold these positions are still fired by idealism – being relatively unspoiled by political influences – and are in a position to report periodically on whatever was coming in the way of any development project – from land-related matters to law and order disruption – in their segment. The Centre has enough concurrent powers to take suitable action on their reports. In the Modi regime this should become a prime paradigm of good governance.
Fourth is the handling of the challenge relating to the condition of ordinary farmers. While the systemic improvement in the availability of water, electricity and fertilizers goes on, the farmer must get the market price of whatever he had produced and timely financial aid in the event of a crop failure. India has to create its own model of administration to prevent farmers’ suicides. At the sub divisional level, a procurement centre should operate to accept the produce and cycle it further and to identify farmers whose crop had failed due to some unavoidable reason. This arrangement would be needed for about 4-6 weeks around harvest time – an efficient state government should manage it by designating the SDOs as Special Officers for Procurement and Compensation for the period. Politicians only think of a system of ‘doles’ for farmers which does not help.
Finally, the long range solution of the problems of Education and Health must be found on an urgent footing – these should be declared as areas of strategic import at par with Defence and Internal Security to provide for an effective oversight of the Centre on them. These vital services make a nation strong and both government and private sectors handling them must come up to the mark and keep malpractices out of the system. For Corporates, universities and specialty hospitals are good business too but these must subserve the nation by helping the people at large. The thrust of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding should be on underwriting new schools in panchayat circles wherever needed. The Modi government must achieve the declared goal of giving free education to all needy children of up to the age 12 and provide access to primary healthcare to all minors in the country. It must bring ‘cooperative federalism’ into play – its resounding victory in this General Election has assured it of people’s support for all of its mega missions. The nation would look for visible progress every six months in these five areas of priority.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)
BY D.C. PATHAK